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What to Do When You Bump Up Against an Executive Director That Pumps the Breaks on Your Big Idea

By Joanne Toller posted 07-26-2022 09:30


Just over one year ago, I found myself bumping up against a new manager who was utterly resistant to my big ideas.


I had spent six years working for this charity, building their fund development program, and implementing traditional campaigns alongside new and creative digital initiatives. I loved this charity. I put my heart and soul into my work with them.


Suddenly, I found myself consistently hearing the word “no.” I also heard statements like, “That won't work” and, “I would hate that if I were a donor.


Frustrated and indignant, I quit in a blaze of glory. She wasn’t even a CFRE! In hindsight, I should have managed things differently. In my defense, I was going through a tragic loss in my personal life. I was a mess and not thinking straight. I made an impulsive decision to leave an extremely comfortable position with no clear plan for my future because I had my wings clipped.


Luckily, leaving worked out very well for me. I am now a digital marketing and fundraising specialist who teaches big ideas, and I only work with innovative organizations.


Hindsight is 20/20. This article covers what I should have done instead of spontaneously quitting.


One of my current clients is a mental health organization. I host their YouTube show and podcast and have learned much about human psychology. I believe I can explain the number one reason your Executive Director or manager may be pumping the breaks on your big idea.


It may be a matter of money and resources. They may have a Board that pumps their breaks. Perhaps they don't properly understand the technology or idea you are proposing. Maybe, and this is a hard truth, they lack confidence in your ability.


The number one reason, however, is FEAR. Fear is the driver of all negative emotions. Fear is at its foundation if we look at any form of ego. Fear we will lose something or fear we won't get what we want. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of being replaced, fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of being judged, fear of success and so much more.


When we step back and look at all the pressures our Executive Directors face and the fears they may carry, we can build a plan to approach them with our ideas so they might be more receptive.


Here is what I could have done differently:


Take It Slow and Understand Their Fears

In my case, my manager was significantly older than I was. The technology scared her. She did not understand it. My babbling about the Metaverse, IG Live, QR codes, SEO keywords and the like frightened her. I made her feel old and out of touch.


Present Your Idea Clearly, Outline the ROI

I have a terrible habit of getting excited and running off on a tangent. I should have taken the time to present my plan in a way that she could understand, spelling out the return on investment for her.


Ask Why They Are Saying No

I did this. The response?  She would not participate in my proposed campaign. I should have cited research, other professionals and best practices for millennial fundraising.


Start Small

She was new in the manager role. I could have started with a smaller project, knocked it out of the park and then asked for more.


Understand That Some Humans Are Just Plain Toxic

If it’s a toxic leader shutting you down because they are a bully, it still stems from fear. Nothing you do or say will help.


What I am about to say is my opinion and not meant to be instructive—but decide to stay or go. If you go, it could be the start of your most incredible adventure yet. It was for me.



The biggest lesson I learned through this experience was about my fears. My manager pumping the breaks on my big ideas brought up my own fears of not being good enough and losing my financial security.


Her fears bumped up against my fears—not my ideas bumping up against her resistance. We are all just humans, bumping along as best we know.